Editorial: Climate shift: Senate likely to warm to Inhofe's view
Published: Nov 7, 2009
Sen. Jim Inhofe lost his battle with Democrats over climate change legislation, but his ultimate victory might be in view.
Democrats on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill last week that would require a 20 percent cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, mainly through a cap-and-trade system.
Led by Inhofe, Republicans boycotted the vote, claiming the legislation's cost hadn't been fully analyzed by the Environmental Protection Agency. No matter. Democrats had more than enough votes to prevail with or without them present.
The full Senate will be different. There Inhofe's argument - that emissions targets essentially returning the United States to 1977 levels could cripple the economy - likely will find bipartisan traction. Especially after elections in New Jersey and Virginia in which independents turned sharply away from Democrats and most voters said they were worried about the economy.
With unemployment topping 10 percent last week and the economic recovery looking soft, a cap-and-trade system that a number of experts say would result in taxes on nearly every aspect of life in the United States - without much actual effect on climate - will get a chilly reception from Senate moderates.
Which is why Inhofe has been telling anyone who would listen that cap and trade is a goner. Credit him for standing up to scientists and celebrities who insist all doubt about man-made warming has been answered.
No one in the Senate knows the issue better, and if/when the entire body debates it, evidence is strong the climate will favor Inhofe.
With the Kerry-Boxer legislative saga having run its course, EPW Policy Beat is launching a new project called "Hearing Highlights," in which we mine the recent cap-and-trade hearing record for-to borrow a phrase from the past-all "the best that was thought and said." For three days at the end of October, the EPW Committee heard from witnesses representing various constituencies that would endure serious economic harm if cap-and-trade were enacted. Of course, the committee also heard from witnesses that stand to gain-millions in fact-under a cap-and-trade regime. So the hearings accomplished at least one thing: they presented a stark portrayal of who the winners and losers would be. Our focus here is on the "losers"-in other words: consumers, ratepayers, farmers, ranchers, small businesses, manufacturing workers, the Heartland, and coal, to name a few.
This week, we highlight excerpts from testimony by Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. As Stallman meticulously recounted, cap-and-trade of the Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Boxer variety would mean certain disaster for America's farmers. One effect of such legislation would be higher fuel and fertilizer costs. This point was captured in the following exchange between Stallman and Sen. Inhofe: (Click Here to Watch)
INHOFE: And I think that's very significant to bring up, because there's somehow -- and we noticed this yesterday and the day before in these hearings -- there's the assumption that if you are exempt, you don't have any problems.
But what about the -- the cost of gasoline, the cost of diesel, the cost of fertilizer? How much has fertilizer gone up in the last five years, roughly?
STALLMAN: Oh, I couldn't give you the percent. But based on my farm, I know I write a lot bigger checks than I used to.
INHOFE: Yes, and of course, the main ingredient there is natural gas. You're going to have -- this is going to cause that to go up. The chemicals -- the cost of everything, doing business, is going to go dramatically up.
So even if you were exempt, those costs would continue. And you -- you would like to be able to say that all those could be passed on. Some will be passed on, so the general public, my wife, going to the grocery store, my 20 kids and grand kids that are eating meals, are going to be paying more. But the farmers also are going to be paying more and getting less out.
STALLMAN: Absolutely -- 20 percent of our input costs in agriculture, on average, are energy related.
In his prepared testimony, Stallman wrote that, "Cost increases incurred by utilities and other providers resulting from climate change/energy legislation will ultimately be borne by consumers, including farmers and ranchers." He also noted that increases in natural gas prices "as EPA projects would likely result from this legislation could threaten the remaining fertilizer manufacturing facilities in the United States. This would make us even more dependent on fertilizer imports."
Cap-and-trade, according to Stallman, also would put U.S. agriculture at a competitive disadvantage relative to international trading partners that have no greenhouse gas restrictions. And in his view, attempts to mitigate this inequity through border adjustments or other mechanisms simply won't work:
"The increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs that will result from H.R. 2454 and S. 1733 will greatly impact the relationship of American producers with the rest of the world. U.S. agriculture is an energy-intensive industry that relies to a large extent on international markets. These increased input costs will put our farmers and ranchers at a competitive disadvantage with producers in other countries that do not have similar GHG restrictions...
"Trade issues become more complicated, because any trade equalization measures seeking to ‘level the playing field' for our producers must also comply with our World Trade Organization commitments. Provisions such as those contained in the House bill effectively imposing border tariffs on goods from countries that do not have similar GHG restrictions will almost certainly be challenged in the WTO and are in serious jeopardy of being found to be non-compliant with our obligations. Moreover, such actions could very likely lead to retaliation."
Deficit push sets climate bill back
November 13, 2009
An aggressive White House push on jobs and deficit reduction in 2010 may be yet another sign that climate-change legislation will stay on the back burner next year.
"There is a growing chorus in the party that thinks we should be doing more to spur job creation and not necessarily tackle cap and trade right now," said a moderate Democratic Senate aide.
White House officials told POLITICO on Friday that President Barack Obama plans curb new domestic spending beyond jobs programs and focus on cutting the federal deficit next year.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has hinted that Democrats plan to take up a job-creation bill, in the wake of the announcement of a 10.2 percent unemployment rate. In the House, some lawmakers are beginning to push a major highway bill for next year to focus on job creation.
None of this is promising for a major climate change bill.
The focus on deficit reduction and jobs may allow coal and manufacturing state Democrats to continue their pushback on climate change legislation, warning that the bill could raise energy prices and hurt job growth in their region. Opponents of the legislation also jumped on October testimony by Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf that the House climate bill would slightly slow economic growth and lead to "significant" job losses from fossil fuel industries.
Moderate Democrats have argued that the Senate should pass a jobs bill instead of cap and trade in closed door caucus meetings, according to Democratic aides.
"While we must always be mindful of the cost of legislation, that's particularly true in today's economy," said Finance committee Max Baucus at a hearing this week.
Baucus was the only Democrat to vote against the climate change legislation in the Environment and Public Works committee, but says he is committed to passing "balanced" climate change legislation that includes lower short-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions.
Other moderate Democrats have pushed Reid to take up a "climate light" bill that focuses only on energy provisions included in the legislation - leaving the cap-and-trade provisions to be dealt with after the economy recovers.
The Energy and Natural Resources committee passed an energy bill with bipartisan backing in June. Dorgan and other say the vote signaled that a package including renewable fuels mandates, energy-efficiency measures, and increased domestic exploration could attract significant Republican support.
"Good policy is going to be left behind by the insistence that the climate change bill has to be done first or together," warned Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).
Obama and Democratic supporters of the bill have repeatedly said that legislation would create millions of new green jobs by providing incentives for businesses to invest in green technologies.
They also note that the Senate bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is deficit neutral, largely due to a Senate rule that prohibits major bills from adding $5 billion to the federal deficit in any of the five decades following its enactment.
"There's just no credible way to turn these deficit-neutral bills into definitively-negative decisions for our country, especially since energy remains a top priority for the Obama administration and for the American people," said a House Democratic aide close to the bill.
Aides say that legislation currently being drafted by Kerry and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) will also be deficit neutral and focus on economic growth.
"If environmental policy is not good business policy, you'll never get 60 votes," said Graham. "So my goal is to try to make sure that we fashion environmental policy that will create millions of new jobs for Americans who are desiring to have new jobs."
Buddies battle over climate change bill
By: Lisa Lerer
November 10, 2009
Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and ranking GOP member Jim Inhofe traded fierce fire last week as their committee battled over whether to move forward with a climate change bill.
But behind closed doors, the California liberal and the Oklahoma conservative say they prefer exchanging global warming gag gifts more than partisan jabs.
Inhofe brags about a mug he gave Boxer that shows sea levels rising to cover certain regions - including most of California - when heated up.
In return, Boxer gave Inhofe a stuffed polar bear - a toy version of an animal that scientists say is gravely threatened by global warming.
"We are really very good friends," said Boxer. "It's a good working relationship we have. People are very surprised about it."
Publicly, the two seem like anything but best buddies as they wrangle over the science of global warming in a fiercely partisan policy feud that has pushed their committee to the outskirts of the climate debate.
Boxer, a hybrid-car-driving liberal, frequently calls climate change "one of the greatest challenges of our generation."
Inhofe sees greenhouse gas limits as "environmental thuggery," environmentalists as "alarmists" and global warming as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
Those stark political differences are hard to disguise in public, according to both senators, but they conceal the vastly more collegial approach the pair takes in private.
"She tends to be a little more serious than I think she should and to get pretty uptight. When she does that, I normally would say something very relaxing to her," Inhofe said. Of the jokes and pranks they exchange, he said, "we usually do it on a whisper."
Former aides speculate that the two are so friendly because both realize that the public sparring helps their political careers.
Boxer was featured in an ad run by Inhofe's opponent in his 2008 election - a decision Inhofe believes helped his numbers in blood-red Oklahoma.
"She came out against me in Oklahoma, and that was quite a boost. I thanked her," he said. "I invited her to come out and have a live fundraiser or something with my opponent."
And in a 2007 hearing, Boxer forced Inhofe to stop questioning former Vice President Al Gore, famously telling him, "Elections have consequences."
Those comments were later featured on thank-you cards sent by Boxer to her supporters.
If their policy differences are kindling for a political fire, the EPW committee is the match. Historically, the panel has been one of the Senate's most politicized committees, with a membership that includes the body's most liberal and most conservative lawmakers.
And it's become even more divisive over the past few years, with the retirement of moderate committee members such as Vermont independent Jim Jeffords and Virginia Republican John Warner.
"I had a partner in John Warner, but I have nobody else," Boxer said, referring to her passion for climate legislation. "These Republicans on this committee are really more of the ‘party of no' - they are not interested in tackling this problem at all."
The committee's partisan differences exploded in the hearing room again last week, when Boxer and Inhofe spent days locked in a stalemate over the climate bill.
Republicans boycotted the legislation, refusing to move forward until Democrats would agree to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct additional analysis on its economic ramifications. Democrats believed the request for the study, which would take weeks and cost roughly $140,000, was a delay tactic designed to slow the bill.
On Thursday, Boxer used a loophole in committee rules to push the legislation through without Republican members present.
The political wrangling has diminished the role of EPW in the climate debate, even though the committee has jurisdiction over the bulk of the legislation.
"It dooms that particular legislation," said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. "This may stall things out for a period of time."
Moderates from both parties are now looking to Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to negotiate a bipartisan compromise.
"The question is what comes next," said Murkowski. "Sens. Graham, Kerry and Lieberman are going to Plan B."
The trio plans to work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to compile a final proposal after the six committees with jurisdiction over the sweeping legislation finish their work on the bill.
But now that EPW has finished its work, Boxer and Inhofe say, they look forward to a more productive working relationship on the committee.
They have worked together on highway, infrastructure and water issues in the past. Boxer and Inhofe led the charge to overturn President George W. Bush's veto of the $23 billion Water Resources Development Act in 2007. The vote was the first override of a veto in Bush's then-seven-year tenure, and it marked the first time Congress had updated the law since 2000.
They hope to continue work on the highway bill, the next major piece of legislation to be taken up by the panel. Boxer and Inhofe failed to persuade committee members to back quick passage of an 18-month extension of the 2005 highway bill. Now, they are trying to move forward with a six-month extension.
Inhofe said the GOP's boycott of the climate hearings won't affect his ability to work with Boxer on the highway bill. But, he warned, by breaking committee precedent and conducting a vote without the opposition party present, Boxer armed Republicans with a powerful tool for when they regain majority status.
The boycott "won't have that much effect because we're both very serious about a highway bill," he said. "But it is a precedent that is there that may come in handy in the future."
On Tuesday, Senator Inhofe provided the following testimony for a Legislative Hearing on the Great Water Body Legislation: S. 1816 and S. 1311:
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these Great Water Body bills today. I am extremely concerned about the implications that these bills may have on states, local land use decisions, and EPA's authority. I am particularly troubled by the approach taken in S. 1816, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act.
In my statement submitted for the record for the last Chesapeake Bay hearing, on August 3rd, I said that "taking care of a resource like the Chesapeake Bay requires the buy-in of all interested stakeholders, from businesses, to fishermen, to land users and developers upstream, be actively involved and engaged. A top-down, heavy handed federal approach will not lead to the kind of real-world changes that are necessary to ensure the health of the Bay." I am disappointed that the bill before us today features exactly that top-down, heavy handed federal approach I warned about.
This bill requires that states provide EPA with adequate Smart Growth plans. As I have stated in the past, the Federal Government should not tell states how to proceed on development; furthermore, as a strong federalist, I think it is dangerous to have Washington make decisions that should be up to local communities. Allowing the EPA to approve decisions about taxes, jobs, and local land use is simply unacceptable.
I have heard from a number of groups who will be affected by these bills. I request that the statements of the Maryland State Builders Association, William Walker, Ph.D., Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Grain Producers Association, Maryland Gran Producers Association, New York Corn Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association and National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, and a letter received from nearly 50 Agricultural Organizations within the watershed, be inserted into the record and that the record remain open for two weeks to allow the committee to gather a full and complete record on the impacts of these bills as we move forward.
Unfortunately, I see this bill as another part of a hostile agenda aimed squarely at rural America and removing States and local officials as decision makers and instead placing them as merely following the dictates of Washington. Whether it's new energy taxes from cap-and-trade legislation or more unfunded environmental mandates, it's clear that this bill is yet one more raw deal for rural America.
Let me be clear, I have indicated to Sen. Cardin my support for a reauthorization of the current Chesapeake Bay program, and I would like to work with Sen. Cardin to make that happen. However, I cannot be supportive of a massive federal expansion of EPA's authority, which poses serious consequences for agriculture, local development, and which could pave the way for this approach in other Great Water Bodies, like the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.